Archive for the ‘English - general issues’ Category

Building capacity to increase English proficiency

Wednesday, February 7th, 2018
The roundtable in session. In the front row (from left) are Supyan Hussin, Ganakumaran Subramaniam, Zuraidah Mohd Don, Siti Bahijah Bakhtiar and Nor Faridah Abd Manaf.

There has been a lot of concern for a long while now on whether Malaysian graduates and school-leavers have the English language proficiency levels that will enable them to compete in a globalised world where trade and commerce are mostly carried out in English and academic research findings are largely authored in the language.

Two years ago, the Ministry of Education (MOE) launched the Roadmap for English Language Education in Malaysia spanning 2015 to 2025 to align the standard of English taught in schools and institutions of higher learning with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) — an international standard that focuses on producing learners who can communicate and interact in any language, in this instance, English.

The roadmap takes a cohesive approach where the English language curriculum, teaching and learning process and materials, and teacher training are integrated. With an emphasis on the ability to communicate, CEFR spells out the learning outcomes/skills (e.g. understand, read, write, communicate) students should attain at every stage of learning and puts the student, teacher and parent on the same page where expectations and results are concerned.

While the focus on the alignment with CEFR standards has been very much school-based, Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh, in his 2018 mandate, proposed that the Malaysia English Assessment (MEA) be CEFR-aligned and integrated into the communication component of the iCGPA in public universities.

This move underlines the fact that where English language education is concerned, there is a themed continuum from preschool to tertiary studies.

Textbooks form one of the core components of an education curriculum.

To accelerate efforts to elevate the standard of English in schools, MOE announced the introduction of foreign textbooks in English language classes at public schools starting this year as part of its initiative to align the English language curriculum with CEFR standards. This move involves those from preschool, Years One and Two pupils, and Forms One and Two students .

While some — politicians, teachers and parents — opposed the move due to a multitude of reasons, there are also those who strongly feel that this initiative will enhance English language proficiency.

Issues such as the content not being culturally suitable for students in rural areas especially and lack of consultation with stakeholders like teachers and parents on the use of such textbooks were raised. Some also pointed out that the abrupt decision by the ministry may not augur well.

Superminds, the CEFR-aligned textbook used by preschoolers, Years One and Two pupils, is published by Cambridge University Press, while Form One and Two students use Pulse 2 published by Macmillan Publishers.

Matter of Contention:

International Islamic University Malaysia’s (IIUM) Department of English Language and Literature organised a recent roundtable discussion to provide a platform for academicians to extrapolate issues from angles as diverse as those from the grass roots, parents, teachers and universities to policy-makers but with an eye on building a constructive effort to address the concerns of all Malaysians effectively.

Professor at Sustainability of Language Science

Professor Supyan Hussin of the Sustainability of Language Sciences Research Centre in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia kicked off the session by sharing the findings of a survey he conducted in October last year via social media which received 727 responses from the public to gauge whether they agree with the move to import textbooks from the United Kingdom to teach English.

Some 64.5 per cent did not agree with the idea of importing foreign books to be used in schools while 25.2 per cent agreed with the move and the rest were not sure.

From the survey results, concerns revolved around the cost (which many believe is too expensive), cultural elements (how foreign elements will affect the way students think and act), credibility of local writers (the country hascredible writers to write textbooks), and whether imported books are compatible with the curriculum.

“Some say it’s not so much the textbooks but whether teachers are able to use them to teach,” said Supyan, adding that a curriculum is designed with an education philosophy in mind and, in the case of Malaysia, materials must be in line with the National Education Philosophy.

“Based on the National Education Philosophy, we should conduct needs analysis and address the requirements of the Z and Alpha generations. The books need to fulfil the learning objectives for specific lessons. Delivery is tested and student assessments are conducted to see whether the outcomes match the objectives. Then we decide whether to adopt or adapt. That’s how we select materials for teaching and learning,” he added.

Malaysian English Language Teaching Association president Professor Ganakumaran Subramaniam, who is also the Asia Teaching English as a Foreign Language vice-president and School of Education head at the University of Nottingham Malaysia, said that textbooks alone cannot improve waning standards of English in schools.

Other elements that come into play include teacher competence; the learning environment in terms of context and opportunities to use the language; teaching strategies comprising methodologies, strategies and activities; a carefully thought-out developmental syllabus; student motivation; and learning-related matters such as personality, readiness, learning styles and strategies.

Like Supyan, Ganakumaran said textbook suitability should be measured by its compliance with the National Education Philosophy and aligned with the English curriculum goals; English Language Teaching pedagogical consideration; and technical and publication consideration, among others.

By ROZANA SANI.

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/education/2018/02/332968/building-capacity-increase-english-proficiency

Idris Jusoh: English proficiency of local graduates on the rise.

Monday, February 5th, 2018

JOHOR BARU: English language proficiency among Malaysian graduates from local universities has improved in recent years, says Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh.

The Higher Education Minister said most graduates had achieved better grades on English assessment tests set by the ministry.

He added that findings from the Malaysian English Assessment showed that local university graduates now have more confidence to converse in the language.

“Feedback from industries also shows that the standard of English among our local graduates is getting better,” Idris told reporters during the university and Industry dialogue at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia here Monday (Feb 5).

Read more @ https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2018/02/05/idris-jusoh-english-proficiency-of-local-graduates-on-the-rise/#iRXX91lA3Wq9Fll3.99

Building on a benchmark

Sunday, February 4th, 2018

The English Language Roadmap 2015-2025 uses the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). This year, imported CEFR-aligned English textbooks are being used in schools. And, plans are underway to align the Malaysian University English Test (MUET) with the framework. StarEducate finds out more about the CEFR, and how it can improve our English proficiency.

FOCUSED on teaching, assessment, and assessment-reporting, our Primary School Standard Curriculum (KSSR), and Standard Curriculum for Secondary Schools (KSSM), are based on expected outcomes that indicate progress and success, says Malaysian English Language Teaching Association (Melta) president Prof Dr S. Ganakumaran.

Essentially, both our curriculum, and the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR), are based on learner achievement standards, he explains.

Two months ago, the Malaysia Examination Council announced that efforts were underway to align the Malaysian University English Test (MUET) with the CEFR so that it can be globally marketed especially to international students planning to further their studies in Malaysia.

“The biggest difference between the CEFR and our curriculum is that the KSSR standards are internally set based on the needs of learning a second language in Malaysia, and our success criteria is based on national goals, and expectations.

“On the other hand, the CEFR standards are determined externally based on language-learning research in Europe. These standards allow us to structure what we teach, and assess, to benchmark the progress of our students internationally,” Prof Ganakumaran says.

Launched in 2001, the CEFR, adds Universiti Malaya’s (UM) Faculty of Education senior lecturer Dr Zuwati Hasim, is neither a curriculum, nor a syllabus.

“Why do we need CEFR as a benchmark? What will happen to MUET – the English language competency examination taken by local students as a requirement to enter local public and private universities? If students are in Band 6 of MUET, which is equivalent to C2 of the CEFR, will they be exempted from taking the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), or any other internationally-developed English language test, when they enrol in universities abroad?” she asks.

Calling for a transparent evaluation of the CEFR’s implementation, she says the framework can be used as a form of reference for many different languages – not just English, but it must be an adaption, not an adoption.

Stressing that the framework is a mere guide, she says it can be adapted here if it’s aligned towards the communicative needs of our pupils.

“In Malaysia, English is a second language, not a foreign language. We shouldn’t be aligning our syllabus to the framework by compromising on our learners’ needs,” she feels, adding that the curriculum we’ve had through the years, were impressive and well-developed. Now, it’s about improving what we have.

The KSSR, and KSSM, are in line with the national education principles, and aimed at strengthening unity in a multi-cultural society, she adds.

KSSR was implemented in 2011, replacing the Primary School Integrated Curriculum (KBSR), which was introduced in 1983. The KSSM, which replaced the Integrated Secondary School Curriculum (KBSM), and a revised KSSR, kicked-off last year.

“Imported textbooks are being introduced even before we’ve analysed the effectiveness of the KSSR and KSSM textbooks. Will the CEFR lead to a revamp of the current co-curriculum?” she asks.

It’s important for teachers to be assessed based on the CEFR to show the quality of their proficiency according to an international standard, says Prof Ganakumaran. But, language proficiency – though advantageous, doesn’t necessarily translate to good teaching.

One of the key aims of the CEFR is to address a society that speaks several languages, and is sensitive to the different cultures around them, Dr Surinderpal Kaur, the deputy dean of postgraduate studies at the UM Faculty of Languages and Linguistics, points out. “Like Europe, Malaysia isn’t a monogamous culture. But the CEFR isn’t prescriptive – it tells you to modify the benchmark to suit your cultural context, not how to do it.”

European countries use the CEFR for many different languages as a benchmark for communication competency. This international benchmarking is very important because it allows for labour mobility. If correctly interpreted and implemented, the CEFR brings consistency. But it boils down to the training of educators, the materials used, assessment processes, and curriculum developed.

“We’ve to continuously tweak our curriculum which is still very traditional. We need peer-learning, emersion in digital technology, and critical thinkers who can apply their knowledge to solve problems.

“Aligning everything to the CEFR won’t be of much use if we don’t open up our curriculum. You can’t have your own benchmark for the SPM, then expect students to sit for the CEFR-aligned MUET at varsity. The benchmark must be consistent from primary level.”

Most European countries piloted their CEFR-aligned teacher-training, materials and assessments, when they started. This is necessary to iron out the kinks, she says.

“Once we’ve done that for English, the template we’ve created can be used for other languages like Bahasa Malaysia.”

Teachers, she adds, are crucial because if they don’t understand the CEFR, and the aims behind it, we won’t get far. She suggests:

> Improving teacher-proficiency in line with the CEFR;

> Ensuring that teacher-trainers know the CEFR well, can communicate it effectively, and are able to help teachers make sense of the teaching materials;

> Introducing a platform for teachers to share their best practices;

> Organising workshops for trainers and teachers; and

> Having townhalls to reach out to the community.

Dr Surinderpal calls for parents, teachers, teacher-trainers, and students, to be treated as equal stakeholders in the learning of English.

“Use lay terms. Reach out to the public. They must know what the Education Ministry is doing, and how it’s being done. Show the step-by-step progression, and address their concerns along the way.”

Dr Zuwati, who’s also a teacher-trainer, believes in empowering teachers.

Currently, only selected teachers are trained in the CEFR-aligned syllabus and textbooks. And, they’re expected to train their colleagues. The message, she says, can get lost in translation. She worries about the impact this would have on the implementation of the CEFR.

To fully benefit from the CEFR, you have to implement it properly, and not rush into superficial solutions, says Cambridge Assessment English (policy, projects and partnerships) director Dr Hanan Khalifa.

Part of the University of Cambridge, the not-for-profit organisation is dedicated to helping people learn English. It has been involved in the development of the CEFR for over 30 years.

“It’s tempting to take short cuts, but these don’t give you the improvements which a carefully implemented programme can give you.

“So it’s great that the Education Ministry is taking so much care in using data to align the curriculum, assessment, and learning materials, to the CEFR. This will ensure that they really deliver the skills which pupils need,” says Dr Hanan.

Read more @ https://www.thestar.com.my/news/education/2018/02/04/building-on-a-benchmark/

Charting the journey forward

Sunday, February 4th, 2018

The English Language Roadmap 2015-2025 is a “really inspiring” model which other countries should study, says Cambridge Assessment English (policy, projects and partnerships) director Dr Hanan Khalifa.

It’s an ambitious vision for the country’s future, giving every pupil a high level in both English and the national language.

“It’s easy for a government to set ambitious targets, but what’s special about the roadmap is that it includes a detailed, realistic plan for achieving these targets. It also covers the whole education system from primary and secondary to university, which is visionary,” she says.

Echoing her sentiments, Malaysian English Language Teaching Association (Melta) president Prof Dr S. Ganakumaran describes it as a positive step forward, saying goals, and targeted outcomes, are clearly stipulated in the strategic plan.

“But one of our education system’s biggest flaw is that we’re always doing things in a hurry, and expecting immediate results.

“Often, we launch a programme when we are ill prepared. We start a programme even before training the teachers, preparing the materials, and developing the assessment.

“We must reflect on our failed and abandoned projects, to learn how to do things better so that our education will have a progressive, and sustainable future,” he thinks.

Dr Surinderpal Kaur, the deputy dean of postgraduate studies at the Universiti Malaya Faculty of Languages and Linguistics, says the roadmap is good as it addresses what’s wrong with our system, and clearly sets the way forward.

“But we launched it before having all the infrastructure in place. So now we have to make some tweaks and be open to constructive criticism. Modifications are needed but it shouldn’t be anything major. No flip-flops or our education system won’t have sustainability and continuity.”

In August 2016, the Education Ministry launched the roadmap to continue enhancing English proficiency among teachers and students.

Focused on the country’s 40,000 English teachers, the roadmap is part of the implementation of the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 to reform English Language education in the country.

In preparation for the roadmap’s implementation, master trainers and observers were trained on the CEFR by Cambridge English in 2016.

The roadmap uses the CEFR and was produced by the English Language Standards and Quality Council. The council is made up of a panel of experts and the director of Cambridge English’s English Language Teaching Centre.

A detailed analysis of English language learning in Malaysia, have been produced for the ministry, says Dr Hanan.

Read more @ https://www.thestar.com.my/news/education/2018/02/04/charting-the-journey-forward/

Building ties through language

Sunday, January 28th, 2018
KZIUM is led by two co-directors, Prof Azarae (right) and Chen.

KZIUM is led by two co-directors, Prof Azarae (right) and Chen.

UNDERSTANDING is one of the key ingredients to building a cordial relationship between people and nations.

The Kong Zi Institute Universiti Malaya (KZIUM) is part of the global Confucius Institute (CI) network established by Hanban (Confucius Institute Headquarters) and Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU).

Set up on Nov 1, 2009, in Universiti Malaya as a government-to-government programme between Malaysia and China, the institute focuses on enhancing the understanding of the Chinese language.

KZIUM Malaysia director Prof Datuk Dr Azarae Idris, who has been managing the institute since 2010, says KZIUM is the fruit of “two governments and two nations working together”.

KZIUM offers Mandarin courses including Comprehensive Mandarin (Levels 1-6), Chinese Character Course, Essential Mandarin for Business (Intermediate, Advanced) and Essential Mandarin for Travelling in China.

Students who have completed their Mandarin courses have the option to take the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (HSK) test – the international standardised Chinese proficiency test that consists of six levels – to measure their ability to communicate in Chinese during daily life.

The YCT (Youth Chinese Test) is available for primary and secondary school students who are non-native Chinese speakers.

“The programmes here are tailored for people who want to take up Mandarin as a second language.

“About 95% of our students are Malay while the rest include other locals and international students,” he says.

Last year, KZIUM taught over 4,000 students from UM as well as other public and private universities, government agencies and the public.

He adds that knowing Mandarin will open job opportunities in Chinese companies based locally as well as in China.

“By knowing the Chinese language, we will also learn about each other’s culture,” says Prof Azarae who has turned 60 and retired this month. Assoc Prof Dr Noor Zalina Mahmood from UM’s Institute of Biological Sciences has been appointed as his successor.

KZIUM Chinese director Chen Zhong also believes that language is the vehicle for culture.

Chen, an English graduate with a Masters in Lexicography – the art of compiling, writing and editing dictionaries – has been in Malaysia since 2013.

KZIUM, he says, is a bridge between nations.

“We are a platform for our Mandarin teachers from China to reach out to the local teachers to help them improve teaching skills through workshops and conferences that KZIUM organises,” he says.

The institute also brings together organisations from China and Malaysia that are related to education and culture, adds Chen.

He says one of the misconception people have towards the Chinese language is they think they can learn it like how they learn Mathematics.

“This is not true. Mandarin has its own rules of learning, it takes time to learn the components – reading, writing, listening.

“One cannot speak a foreign language fluently in just three or four months,” he says, adding that many people often want to only learn the speaking component of the language.

“If you want to really learn Mandarin, you have to know the Chinese characters because they carry the meaning of the language.

“There are no shortcuts or easy way to learn a foreign language,” he says.

Practice makes perfect, this is the only way.

Read more @ https://www.thestar.com.my/news/education/2018/01/28/building-ties-through-language/#Qgl4YR41KK1P3lCB.99

English is language of first priority, so let’s drop any prejudice against it

Sunday, January 28th, 2018
(File pix)

WE are learning English in school, so we join one billion people who are engaged in the same pursuit.

However, as we try to learn the rules of grammar, and try to avoid mistakes committed by students of English, we may wonder why we are learning English in the first place.

So, why is English important?

After Mandarin, English is spoken by more people than any other language, and it is also the native language of more than 350 million people.

More people speak English than those who speak Arabic and French combined.

Moreover, English is the international language of diplomacy, business, science, technology, banking, computing and medi-cine. English has between 500,000 and 1,000,000 words, but most English speakers do fairly well with a vocabulary of 20,000 words.

English can be fun, too. For example, music stars such as Elvis Presley, The Beatles and Michael Jackson encouraged fans to sing along, thereby encouraging people to speak English.

Others embrace English to enjoy the writings of Stephen King, George Orwell and J.K. Rowling. Yet others take to English just to converse with travellers from other countries. English also comes in handy when we travel abroad.

Here are tips on how to be better in English:

FIRST, we need to drop any prejudice against the English language. It is the language of international business, the language of first priority. Any lingering paranoia against English warrants removal;

SECOND, we must make a decision to learn the language despite difficulties and setbacks. It means thinking in the language and using it as often as possible. Practice makes perfect. Those poor in English must make a decision to better themselves in the language;

THIRD, we need to encourage a multilingual Malaysia.

We do not need to teach all the languages in school, but we should provide the opportunity for people to learn languages inexpensively.

If we all learnt each other’s language, it would help us to understand each other better and may bring us closer as a nation. Malaysians do not need any convincing on this points, as many are multilingual.

By MOGESH SABABATHY.

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/letters/2018/01/328856/english-language-first-priority-so-lets-drop-any-prejudice-against-it

Set higher bar to boost English skills

Monday, January 15th, 2018
English communication skills are vital as it is the language of international trade and commerce. — AMERUL AZRY ABDUL AZIZ

THE Malaysian University English Test (Muet) is mandatory for admission into most local universities. While some universities may admit students without Muet scores, it is compulsory for them to take the test before they can graduate.

Most faculties in public institutions of higher learning (IPTA) have a minimum requirement of a Band 3 in Muet. Professional courses, such as medical sciences and engineering, require a minimum of Band 4 for admission.

In my view, the universities should set Band 4 as a minimum qualification for entry into all faculties as Band 3 is inadequate
for either academic or professional courses.

English communication skills are vital as it is the language of international trade and commerce. I believe setting a higher bar for Muet will push our graduates to improve their English.

Many companies, especially multinationals, conduct their business in English. Without the requisite proficiency in the language, our graduates will not be able to perform.

These employers conduct job interviews in English, and this requires candidates to be “good users”, which aptly describes graduates with a Band 4 in Muet .

Some employers use writing tests to gauge applicants’ proficiency in English. I believe the way we write is a reflection of the way our mind works.

Muet or the International English Language Testing System should be made a mandatory requirement for English teachers. Nothing less should be entertained.

By Amerul Azry Abdul Aziz.

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/letters/2018/01/325241/set-higher-bar-boost-english-skills

New entry ‘test’ for residential schools

Monday, December 18th, 2017
The fully residential school entrance exam, comprising five constructs, will test applicants’ intellect and adaptability. (PIC BY YAHYA ZAINUDDIN)

KUALA LUMPUR: AS the education system evolves into a less exam-oriented one, fully residential schools (SBP) will do the same by introducing a new entrance exam that will see students selected based on individual aptitude, aside from academic strength.

The SBP entrance exam held this month will determine if applicants fulfil the criteria for entry into the 69 SBPs nationwide.

The exam, comprising five constructs, will test applicants’ intellect and adaptability.

The Education Ministry’s Fully Residential and Excellent Schools Management Division deputy director Aidie Jantan told the New Sunday Times that preparations for the exam had been set in motion since the middle of the year, and the announcement of the Primary School Assessment Report (PSAR) made it all the more fitting.

The implementation of PSAR was announced by the ministry on Nov 22 with components like academics, sports and co-curriculum, psychometric and classroom assessment being corresponding methods of assessment for primary school pupils.

Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) was one of the components assessed.

The same system would be adopted for SBP entrance, said Aidie, as other factors would be considered prior to enrolment.

This, he said, gave students more opportunities to excel in a multitude of areas, not just academics.

“The entrance exam is parallel to the paradigm shift the ministry is bringing to our education system. If we remain too exam-oriented, the application of soft skills would not take place.”

Of the entrance exam’s five constructs, two focuse on intellectual capability and general knowledge, and three will gauge a pupil’s suitability for boarding schools.

The other constructs measure emotional quotient, soft skills and spiritual quotient.

“The three constructs will see if a student is independent, if he can live in a boarding school community, how he reacts to shared space, how he interacts with those around him and others. The exam is in line with the Malaysia Education Blueprint (2013-2025), which aims to produce students who are knowledgeable, ethical, spiritual and have leadership skills.”

SBPs are looking to mould students who have global competitiveness and strengths that go beyond books.

This, Aidie said, was the notion behind the implementation of PSAR.

“SBP enrolment requirements give us the chance to assess students based on different components. This means we do not only get academically-inclined students, but also those who have leadership skills, are active and have more to them than just brains.”

The entrance exam, comprising 50 multiple-choice questions, will be held from tomorrow to Friday at 155 examination centres.

A total of 58,130 applicants this year will vie for 9,555 places with results to be announced in the SBP portal on Dec 29.

To keep the exam individualised, it is likely that candidates will not be given the exact same set of questions.

By AINA NASA.

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/news/exclusive/2017/12/312878/exclusive-new-entry-test-residential-schools

Fun With English’ To Help Students Improve English Proficiency

Monday, December 18th, 2017

KANGAR, Dec 17 (Bernama) — The Perlis government will organise ‘Fun With English’ (FWI) programme from next year to help students improve their English proficiency.

Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Azlan Man said the level of English subject proficiency among school students in the state was quite weak and needed to be improved.

“This is the state government’s initiative to help students master this very important language,” he told reporters after handing over of school supplies, donated by the Cement Industry of Malaysia Berhad (CIMA) and UEM Group Berhad here today.

A total of 400 selected students in the state received assistance in the forms of clothing, shoes, stationery and school bags.

He said, to implement the FWI programme, the state government would work with several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) including the Perlis Federation of Peninsular Malaysia Malay Students Associations (GPMS).

BERNAMA.

Read more @ http://education.bernama.com/index.php?sid=news_content&id=1420316

Stop, look, go: On the road to better language proficiency

Saturday, December 9th, 2017
Technology should be leveraged to support learning.

PROFICIENCY in English is, undeniably, an asset in today’s world. It helps school-leavers to be prepared for an increasingly globalised job market, it enables us as a society to be more informed about world events, and it gives the country a better voice in the competitive international community.

It is therefore the duty of Malaysian educators to ensure that our children and future leaders become independent and confident users of English.

To meet that need, the Malaysian Education Blueprint (MEB) 2013-2025 called for a review of English Language education (ELE) in the country and the adoption of an internationally established framework of reference — the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) — for teaching, learning and assessment.

Cambridge English was subsequently commissioned to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of ELE from pre-school to pre-university levels. The study looked at learner skill levels and attitude, time allocated for English in school, teacher competence, adequacy of infrastructural support, conduciveness of the learning environment, and other factors impacting on the effectiveness of English Language teaching and learning. This evidence-based 2013 Baseline Study provided the Education Ministry with a picture of how Malaysian English Language learners were performing against internationally recognised standards and suggested improvements to the ELE system.

The findings spurred intensive efforts to raise English Language proficiency, including the initiation of the Highly Immersive Programme. They also led to the development of the English Language Education Reform in Malaysia: The Roadmap 2015-2025. Guided by the 2013 data, the Roadmap specifies CEFR-based proficiency targets for every level of education and outlines a systematic long-term plan integrating curriculum, teaching and learning, and assessment to reach those targets.

Since the launch of the Roadmap, the strategies outlined in the first phase have been implemented. CEFR-aligned curricula have been and are being developed, as are CEFR-informed teaching-learning and assessment approaches and materials. The requisite teacher training is also being conducted.

Four years down the road from the 2013 Baseline Study, it is time to ask: how are we doing and are we on the right track as we head towards 2025?

The recently conducted Cambridge Evaluation Study 2017 provides some answers. The results from this latest study serve two major purposes: first, they highlight key changes in learner performance since 2013, and second, they indicate where learners and teachers are in relation to the 2025 CEFR aspirational targets. It is too early to determine the impact of the Roadmap strategies but the data provide us with a new baseline against which later performance can be reviewed.

LEARNER PERFORMANCE

A total of 20,315 pupils in Primary Year Six, and Forms Three, Five and Six participated in the study. They all took Reading and Listening tests, with a smaller percentage involved in Writing and Speaking assessment. About 14,000 of them completed a questionnaire.

Writing was found to be the strongest skill across all school grades, followed by Speaking, while Reading (including grammar-oriented Use of English) and Listening were the weaker skills. The 2017 pupils were one CEFR level above their 2013 counterparts in Speaking (for Forms Three, Five and Six ), Writing (Form 5) and Listening (Form 6). The 2017 cohort was weaker in just one instance: Reading and Use of English (Form 3).

It appears that pupils are performing better in the productive skills now. Writing has always received much attention because of its importance in tests, but the improvement in Speaking is a nod to the activity-focused initiatives that have been implemented since 2013.

Urban schools remained better performers than rural schools at the secondary level, but in contrast with the 2013 study, there were no significant differences for Year Six. The narrowed performance gap for Year Six may be a positive result of the LINUS initiative and professional development programmes for teachers.

The next question to ask is: how does the 2017 performance compare against the 2025 aspirational targets? It is encouraging to note that almost half the Year Six and Form Five pupils are currently at or above those target levels. The challenge to achieve the Forms Three and Six targets is certainly greater. However, with eight years to go, we have a fair chance of attaining the targets if — as cliché as it sounds — everyone sticks to the plan.

TEACHER PERFORMANCE

All efforts would come to naught without competent teachers. So, how are our teachers doing? The study, which evaluated 2,826 teachers in the participating schools, provides data on their English Language proficiency and teaching knowledge.

The findings show that 46 per cent of the teachers are currently at a CEFR C1 level of proficiency. Secondary school optionist teachers contribute most to that percentage, but over 30 per cent of primary school optionists are also at C1 or above in various skills. Given that the target is for every English Language teacher to be at C1 by 2025, the figures suggest that the target is not unattainable with intensified and self-driven professional development.

The teachers fall in Band Three on a four-band scale of a Teaching Knowledge Benchmarking Test. This result indicates that they possess a generally comprehensive knowledge of teaching concepts, terminology, practices and processes. Although their knowledge level is apparently the global average, there is room for improvement.

MOVING FORWARD

The 2017 Evaluation study highlights areas of concern we should pay attention to as we go forward. Teacher training and upskilling has to be responsive to specific emerging needs. For instance, with Listening identified as the weakest skill, teachers need to (re)learn how to teach that neglected skill. Training should also address teachers’ lack of understanding about autonomy in learning and differentiated learning for mixed-ability classes.

Despite the closing of performance gaps, equitable education remains a concern. To give struggling learners a chance to achieve the CEFR target at each level of education, early intervention in primary school must be stepped up so that no one drops too far behind. Rural learners need increased exposure to English. In the absence of English-speaking communities, school activities and electronic media at home must be exploited to provide access to the language.

The recommendations of the study reiterate the importance of quality learning materials. Well-written CEFR-aligned textbooks are a must, and while we are developing our own expertise to produce them, procuring such books from outside is a necessary strategy for now. Technology should be leveraged to support learning, but many schools that have access to technology were found not to be utilising it. This is a shortcoming that needs to be addressed.

The need for reform in assessment is also highlighted. Since the CEFR emphasises self-directed learning and communicative language use, assessment of language skills must be revised to be consistent with that approach. Indeed, CEFR-informed curriculum, teaching-learning and assessment must be developed in tandem as components of an integrated ELE system. These efforts are, thankfully, already underway.

By DR MARDZIAH HAYATI ABDULLAH and MOHAMED KHAIDIR ALIAS.

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/education/2017/12/311309/stop-look-go-road-better-language-proficiency